Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
For untold millions of Americans, libertarianism might seem like something of a passing trend -- a fad, essentially.
The band of through-and-through adherents to libertarian philosophy might be, relative to the overall population of our country, negligible, but mind this age old saying: "Big things come in small packages."
Both the guiding lights of America's libertarian movement and run-of-the-mill activists enjoy a megaphone-powered voice. While neither the mainstream left or right are behind them anywhere close to 100 percent, libertarians have found that many lefties support a liberty-minded approach to civil rights and, more broadly, constitutional protections. No small number of righties, meanwhile, endorse free market economics and stripping away bureaucracy.
Therefore, it should be no surprise that, especially with the rise of the Internet, libertarian ideas have found their way into settings which would have been inhospitable only a decade ago. Nonetheless, getting a majority of leftists, rightists, and centrists to endorse comprehensive libertarian philosophy remains an order so tall that it can best be described as unlikely.
Still, the emissaries and adherents of libertarianism press forward. One cannot help but admire their deep sense of purpose, political courage, and strident conviction.
Lew Rockwell personifies these attributes better than anyone I can imagine. He is among America's most famous and influential libertarian voices. He publishes an eponymous website which is ground zero for the libertarian chattering class; there one can find perspectives from all the shades of libertarianism, delivered without mainstream media filtration. Rockwell founded the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, which has grown into our world's foremost organ for Austrian School economic theory. Rockwell chairs the organization to this day.
As if all of this were not enough, he has authored four books, edited six, and worked closely with Ron Paul -- both as a congressional staffer and man of letters.
Rockwell spoke with me about a good many topics relating to libertarianism in American society. Some of our conversation is included below.
Joseph Ford Cotto: Since it went into effect during late 1995, the North American Free Trade Agreement has formed a trilateral commerce bloc between Canada, the United States, and Mexico. From your research, has this proven to be of benefit to our country?
Lew Rockwell: Free trade benefits everybody involved in it, but we are talking about genuine free trade. This means voluntary trade, without government interference. NAFTA isn’t real free trade. It subjects American businesses to vexatious regulations and control. American firms would be much better off without these regulations. Of course, tariffs are bad, so they should be ended, not replaced with government-mandated rules for trade.
Cotto: A few years ago, certain political forecasters claimed that the future of America's center-right belongs to libertarians. Since the 2012 presidential election, protectionism has surged in both major parties. Now, in the age of Trump, libertarianism's once-ascendant nature seems a distant memory. Would you say that libertarian Republican politics have any serious potential under Trump?
Rockwell: Yes, but to be effective, libertarians must support, not oppose, the populism that Trump represents. A consistent populism, opposed to government meddling is one that supports people being able to engage in trade and business as they wish. Protectionism is just another type of government meddling. If libertarians can convince populists who support Trump of this, we have very serious potential indeed.
Cotto: Why has libertarianism's most visible political arm -- the Libertarian Party -- failed to make a serious difference in American life? Specifically, is this because most Americans dislike libertarian ideals, might it be that the Party has structural issues, or is the answer something else entirely?
Rockwell: The main reason for the lack of success of the Libertarian Party has been its failure to advocate a populist free market and non-interventionist policy along the lines sketched in responses to earlier questions. Instead, the Party shunted Murray Rothbard to the side and has been dominated by factions subsidized by the Koch family. These groups sympathize with the leftist social values that came to grief in the last election.
The LP has not lent support to the greatest libertarian political enterprise of the past few decades, the Ron Paul Movement. Instead, it has nominated weak candidates, doubtfully libertarian but certainly leftist. Hence, the LP has failed.